• Published 24th Oct 2020
  • 2,780 Views, 221 Comments

The Legionnaire - Vanity

Freed from her stone tomb, Cozy Glow struggles to adapt to the world - and the ponies - she wronged.

  • ...

VIII - Strength

"Admiral Gallus."

"Captain Moonlight."

The Captain of the Royal Guard and the Admiral of the Western Fleet were on poor terms on a good day, and right about now they couldn't loathe each other any more.

Moonlight had assumed the post from Gallus after the latter's promotion, and it was no secret she was widely regarded as a poor replacement. After she'd allowed Princess Twilight to be assassinated, she knew it was only a matter of time before public opinion crushed her like a tonne of bricks. The only reason she hadn't been forced out was that there was nopony else stupid enough to take the job. She'd always despised the idea of a Griffon being allowed to take command of Equestria's largest naval division, and having that same Griffon look down on her for her own shortcomings was almost more than she could handle.

"Today is a day I'd hoped would not come for many years... and certainly not under these circumstances." There was a genuine sadness in Gallus' voice. "Equestria is without any legitimate heir. This is a critical time. We must make all the right decisions if we wish to preserve our nation."

"I would have thought Princess Cadence..." Moonlight didn't like being spoken to like that one bit, especially not by a Griffon decades younger than her - but he was right. "She was Princess Twilight's sister, wasn't she? I understand blood inheritance is somewhat out of date, but surely - "

"Sister-in-law. Princess Cadence has no legitimate claim to the throne, unless she was appointed by the previous Princess. Besides, she's already the ruling Princess of the Crystal Empire. That complicates matters further. Both countries would see it as outright annexation."

"I... see. You have an alternate proposition, then?"

"We should convene a ruling council at once. If we don't establish a centralized power base in Canterlot soon, every city, town and village in Equestria is going to start pulling away." He glanced out of the window at the shining moon. "I see you've sorted that out, at least."

Moonlight grimaced. "Princess Twilight had a team of unicorns capable of raising the sun and moon in the event she isn't available. Of course, we'll have to pay them a lot more now. But let's not get distracted. Who do you want on this council?"

"You and I are obvious choices. Gold Counter, from the Equestrian Revenue Service. Bearing Justice has already agreed to join. General Sprint will have to join us - just between you and me, I don't trust her. I'm sure there's more. Equestria is a complex web of different interests, and we must make sure they all have a place at the table."

"What about the Elements of Harmony?"

"With the death of the Element of Magic, the other elements are a broken chain. Besides, they all settled into civilian lives years ago. They won't want to be dragged into a mess like this."

"And what about beyond that? How will we select another heir?"

Gallus sighed. "I don't know. I keep hoping a miracle will happen, that we'll find an heir everycreature can accept as the new ruler of Equestria. But I suppose we'll have to devise our own solution."

Moonlight nodded. "And what about Luster Dawn? I've dispatched every guard I can spare after her, of course, but we both know we're talking about Twilight's personal protégé here. She's unlikely to prove easy to find. And what do we do with her student, Cozy Glow?"

Gallus frowned. "Good question. Where is Cozy Glow?"

"Discord took her away. That seems to have been the cause of all this."

"Took her away as in..." Gallus let the sentence hang in the air.

"As in took her away. The Princess intended her to be returned."

Gallus grit his teeth. Cozy Glow. He should have known she'd fit into this somehow. "Discord will return soon, when he learns of what happens. He'll bring her with him."

"And then what?"

Gallus paused. "Kill her. She's dangerous. As far as I'm concerned, she's just another part of the conspiracy to murder the Princess. And while you're at it, destroy that damn statue, grind it to dust. Equestria is fragile enough as it is. The last thing we need is for Chrysalis or Tirek to return."

"With pleasure, Admiral."

*crrkkkk* ...is a new report from Canterlot. Princess Twilight, reigning monarch of Equestria, has been assassinated by her former protégé, Luster Dawn. Luster Dawn is yet to be apprehended and should be considered extremely dangerous. Do not approach. Instead, report any sightings of suspicions individuals to a member of the guard. Luster Dawn is described as being a unicorn mare with a lilac coat and amber eyes. Her cutie mark depicts a sun rising over still water. Her whereabouts and probable destination are currently unknown. She is believed to be travelling alone -

The radio was suddenly cut off as Luster "accidentally" knocked it off its table, smashing it to pieces on the floor. Though nocreature around appeared to have been paying any attention, it was better to be safe than sorry.

Halcyon was one of innumerable faceless border villages that connected to Yakyakistan, one that didn't even exist on most maps. The town didn't seem to be much fixed in place, either. The majority of its buildings were yurts, designed to be packed up and moved at a moment's notice. Most ponies - and Yaks - that lived there worked in logging. Though there was nothing preventing Equestria from establishing border checks, the cost, unreliability and pointlessness of establishing a post so north meant that in practice, the border might as well not exist for another few miles, where the southernmost Yak checkpoints were operated.

It had been a good few hours hike north from the nameless station she had departed from, and she desperately wanted nothing more than a warm bed to sleep in, but the idea of her name and description being on the radio warned her off. If there was even the slightest risk of being recognized, it wasn't worth it. Better to endure one night in the cold than lose everything.

Ducking underneath an abandoned store cover, she unfolded the map she'd bought with her, tracing her path north with a hoof. Tomorrow, she left Equestria for good. Yakyakistan's climate was unforgiving, but there wasn't much more travel left before she found herself at Luna's Bay. She was tempted to forgo a night's sleep, and instead attempt to get a headstart on any ponies who might be in pursuit, but the thought of trekking through the mountains in the pitch black night put her off. Besides, she needed to change into warmer clothes.

After some searching, she settled on a small patch of hay sequestered behind a pile of freshly-cut trees as a resting spot. Tossing her heavy saddlebags to the ground, she collapsed onto the bedding, finding it unbearably itchy and barely better than the dry ground. Was this safe? She hadn't the thick fur coat of a Yak to protect her against the sub-zero temperatures already biting into her ears and fetlocks.

As if to answer her question, along came a snowstorm. But it was unlike any she had ever experienced in Equestria. Instead of a few warning flakes signalling what was to come, the snow was suddenly everywhere, dropping the temperature instantly and blinding her. The sudden chill caused her to gasp involuntarily, then choke as she inhaled a mouthful of snow. Fumbling blindly in the snow, she mercifully found cover under an abandoned market stall. Her breathing was shallow, sharp and rapid, and her heart was beating so fiercely in her chest it was agonizing. It was like drowning, but somehow made all the worse by the freezing cold that had begun to numb her whole body. She couldn't have cast a warming spell if she wanted to.

The snow was so thick, she somehow didn't see the enormous Yak approaching until it was within less than a foot of her. He was enormous, easily twice the size of Princess Twilight. As Luster stared, wide eyed, it grunted something in a language she didn't understand. Slowly, deliberately, she shook her head, causing the Yak to roll it's eyes.

"Yasha no talk Ponish." He waved his hoof at the thick blanket of snow piling up around them. "Khuit. Cold. Pony ukhek." He shook his head, then drew a line across his neck to get the point across. "Pony need be dotur." He gestured towards one of the yurts. "Khuit. Dotur nu yaridah." He raised and eyebrow, then scoffed and seized Luster in one powerful arm, before physically dragging her towards one of the yurts, ignoring her protests and pummelling hooves.

With a single swing, he threw her inside. Luster immediately backed away from the door, desperately attempting to ignite her horn and vaporize the Yak the moment he set hoof inside the yurt, trying not to think about what he might be planning. Suddenly she hit against something hairy, warm, and... breathing.

The yak she'd just run into looked displeased at having been woken. As it struggled to get to it's hooves, Luster found her senses returning. Spinning around on the spot, she fired the first spell that came to her mind at the yak called Yasha, a spell designed to stun any attacker. The spell struck the yak straight in the forehead, causing him to bellow with pain, but not fall over. Cursing, Luster prepared to try again, this time with an even stronger spell - but before she could do anything, the other yak swept her hooves out from underneath her with one hoof. She might as well have been made of wet paper.

Yasha stormed back into the tent, bellowing at her in his native tongue. The other yak - a female with ornately braided hair and indecipherable symbols shaved into her coat - began to bellow back, pinning Luster underhoof effortlessly as she did so. The pair shouted back and forth a few times before the dri turned to her once more.

"Impolite to stun your hosts, pony should know. Yasha only doing what's best for pony. He want apology."

Luster could barely believe what she was hearing. "He just grabbed me and threw me in here, and he wants an apology?"

"Novshk. Yasha saved pony's life. Would have frozen to death otherhow. Should be thanking him." She released Luster, who quickly scrambled to her hooves. The dri raised an eyebrow. With a huff, Luster turned to face Yasha and bowed.

"My apologies, Yasha."

Yasha clearly hadn't understood what she'd said, but he recognized the bow and seemed happy. Luster turned around once again to face the dri translator and similarly bowed. She remembered reading somewhere that deference to your hosts was incredibly important to the nomadic yaks. In fact, she was fortunate to have hosts this understanding of her mistake.

"Thank you for... inviting me inside. You're right. I probably wouldn't have lasted much longer out in the elements. My name is Golden Sun." She had practiced her backstory several times. "I'm travelling to the Griffon Empire, and I intend to pass through Yakyakistan to reach Luna's Ocean."

"Strange way to travel. Most pony would go through border trains." She tapped a hoof to her chin. "In fact, most pony would avoid Griffon Empire altogether. What you go there for?"

"I have a job offer there. I'm going to be a mage in the Imperial Court."

That seemed to satisfy the dri's curiosity. "Yula understand. She hears many pony make it rich working for Griffon Emperor. Griffons like ponies good at magic, given they have none of their own. But maybe not tell them about this!" Yula let out a bellowing laugh. "Yula think the Griffon Emperor not want a pony who can't beat two sleepy Yaks!"

Luster echoed her laughter, relaxing slightly. Yasha joined them, and muttered a few words to Yula.

"Yasha want to know why you dressed so light. He right. It only get colder from here, little pony."

"Oh, I..." Luster faltered. "I hadn't planned on it being this cold. Is there anywhere I can get some warmer clothes?"

Yula nodded. "Big shop. Sell everything. Including pony clothes. Lots of ponies work here, see. All stallions, but maybe you buy a small size." Yasha muttered something under his breath, before yelping as Yula struck him in between the ribs. "You buy small yurt, too. Lot of money, but good..." She frowned. "Khorlalt. Not know Ponish word."

"Investment?" Luster ventured. Yula beamed and clapped her hooves together.

"Investment! Yes! Pony smart. Maybe that why Griffon Emperor want pony work for him." Yula sighed, looking wistful. "Yula always wanted to visit far away lands, see world. Yasha too, but won't admit it."

"Well... why don't you?" Luster sat down on the floor, feeling more at ease after seeing the Yak's kindness. Yula sighed and waved her hoof in the air.

"Yula lose job if not turn up at work. Yasha too. Lot of yaks want to work here. Good pay, even if not as much as pony. Yasha and Yula lucky to be here."

"Not as much as ponies?" Luster repeated the phrase, incredulous. "They can't pay you less just because you're a Yak! That's awful, and it's illegal!"

Yula and Yasha simultaneously burst into roaring laughter, Yasha so much he had to physically grip his sides in pain. Luster couldn't help but blush with embarrassment as the Yaks fell over onto the floor laughing. Yula was the first to recover, and still chuckled slightly as she spoke.

"Pony too innocent. No pony want to work up north, but every Yak want to work down south. If yak ask for more, they fire yak and replace her in day. Even translator not safe." She scuffed her hoof into the dirt. "Maybe different back in Canterlot."

"Canterlot?" Luster couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. "How did you know I was from Canterlot?"

"Accent. Same as Yula manager." Yasha muttered something, and Yula nodded. "Same as on voice on radio too. Yula like listening to radio. How Yula learned Ponish." She swelled with pride as she said it. "All on her own. No teacher or books, just Yula."

"Really?" That was surprising. "That's really impressive, Yula. I couldn't do that." The yak grinned and blushed, embarrassed.

"Well, it took Yula long time. It was fun. She like hearing what's happening all around the world." Her face darkened. "She hear what happened last night, too. Princess Twilight gone. Equestria not looking as safe as used to be. Maybe that why you want to leave."

Luster said nothing, unable to think of an appropriate response. Had Yula heard her description on the radio? She was still cloaked, her head still shaved. She'd lost her glasses, but they were only meant to be for the train anyway. Yasha barked harshly, earning him a burning glare from Yula.

"Not say that. Princess Twilight a good Princess. She treat all creatures equal. Yula wonder why anypony want to hurt her." She sighed. "She wonder what happen next."

"Mares and Gentlecolts, Citizens of Equestria. I wish I could say it was a pleasure to introduce myself. I am Admiral Gallus of the Western Fleet." Gallus squinted his eyes, barely able to see a thing from the combined glare of the spotlights and camera flashes. Combined with the unusually fierce sun today, the heat was unbearable, and found himself regretting the decision to wear his dress armour. "As I'm sure many of you are already aware, last night, Princess Twilight was taken from us by a mare close to her heart. I don't intend to give her the benefit of repeating her name, but rest assured it is only a matter of time before she is bought before us, bought before justice."

A smattering of applause and stomping of hooves. Gallus waited patiently for the noise to subside, then continued.

"It is too early to name a successor to Princess Twilight, for in truth no worthy successor seems apparent. But we must turn our minds towards more mundane matters. The day-to-day running of Equestria must continue, Princess or no Princess. In pursuit of this, I am announcing the formation of a new cabinet, without royal authority. I understand this decision may provoke controversy, but in my heart, I am convinced it is the right thing to do."

No applause this time. Onlookers exchanged glances. A few angry stares. Gallus ignored them, and pushed on.

"At the head of this new council is the pony who was closest to Princess Twilight, and therefore the most worthy to stand at the head of the Equestrian nation. Head of the Royal Guard and a lifelong patriot, Captain Moonlight."

The Captain stood forward, unable to completely disguise the look of discomfort on her face. She had thought it mad when the council had unanimously elected her their leader, though it would have been unthinkable to refuse. To her surprise, however, the crowd reacted fairly positively, applauding politely. It seemed her failure to protect the Princess hadn't hurt her reputation as much as she'd feared. Maybe the uniform helped.

"With the esteemed Captain at our helm, we will bring unity to Equestria. Together, we will navigate this ship through the new, unfamiliar waters of the future. This council will draw it's ranks from the best of Equestria, and will dedicate itself to finding a new monarch to unify the nation. To those assembled here today, I would like to extend you my personal thanks to you for attending. If there are any questions, I would be more than happy to take them now."

"What are you going to do about Luster Dawn?!" A reporter was the first to speak up.

"As I said earlier, I would appreciate if the Princess' assassin was not given any of the infamy she clearly desires. Rest assured, our agents are already hot on her hooves. It is merely a matter of time."

"How could this be allowed to happen?"

"Yeah, why is the Captain still here?"

"She's just as guilty as Luster is!"

"The Captain risked her life for the Princess!" Gallus bellowed the lie with remarkable ease - and hate. "Do not ask me why this madmare saw fit to spare her life, and never question her bravery in front of me again! You are in the presence of a hero, so show some respect!"

The hecklers flinched, then backed down. Gallus' eyes burned into the crowd, his already imposing build suddenly amplified further by the ornate golden armour he wore.

"Any other questions?"

Silence. There wasn't an onlooker brave enough to raise their voice. Gallus gave a curt nod, satisfied.

"Long live Equestria."

Turning heel, he abandoned the makeshift podium and headed back inside the palace. Caught off guard, Moonlight stumbled as she caught up with him.

"I don't imagine you'd mind explaining any of this?"

"I don't imagine it takes much explanation." Gallus barely glanced up from the batch of papers in his claw. "Do you really think Equestria would accept a Griffon as their new leader? I don't think so. Nor would they accept a financer, or a judge. Too close to a politician. What Equestria needs is a soldier, an apolitical figurehead to rally the citizens around."

"A figurehead." The word fell from her lips with some weight.

"An idol they can look up to. It doesn't matter if they're really in charge or not. You could do worse, Captain. Like end up in front of a court for your failure to protect the Princess." Gallus glanced upwards from his notes, his arctic-blue eyes fixing Moonlight to the spot. "I would hate for that to happen. Wouldn't you?"

The Captain fought to keep a snarl off her face. "Of course, Admiral."

Gallus nodded approvingly. "Good. Let's get to work." He shook the itinerary in his claw. "The Royal Guard is being reorganized into the Equestrian Guard. I'm placing you in charge of its day-to-day management. For now, they'll be fulfilling the same role they did as the Royal Guard, providing security for the council and Canterlot. Also, I want that statue taken care of by the end of today."

"I'll see to it personally... sir."

The morning sun was blinding, and the light reflecting off the snow-matted steppe only made the brightness less bearable. As Luster emerged from the yurt, cautiously scanning her environment, she took a deep breath, relieved to finally take in air that didn't smell of wet yak fur. Dropping her saddlebags to the floor, she tipped out a bag of bits and counted them through. Just under 500 bits. Not a great wealth by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to get by on. For now, at least.

A rustling behind her caught her attention, and she turned to see Yasha emerging from the yurt. He nodded curtly in her direction, before ambling off in the same general direction as every yak emerging from their yurts - hundreds of them. Yula followed close behind, giving her a warm smile.

"Yula has to give orders for today. Maybe she see you later?"

"Give orders?"

Yula nodded. "Can watch if pony likes."

Curious, Luster followed Yula, shortly arriving at a paid of wooden podiums which every yak had coalesced around. A tall, thin unicorn stood atop the taller of the two, levitating a clipboard in front of him. Yula headed up the steps to the shorter podium. As soon as she was at the top, the unicorn began to shout, to no yak in particular.

"Today, teams A and B will be recovering the trees cut down yesterday in sections 4, 6 and 7!"

Yula barked at the yak assembly in their native language. The second she was finished, the unicorn continued.

"Team C is going to be logging in sections 2 and 3. No slacking! If I find anycreature taking it easy outside of a designated break, you'll be on a train back to Yakyakistan before you know what's happening!"

Yula bellowed the translation. The unicorn flipped a page over, ignoring the glowering looks the yak crowd was giving him.

"We've had some reports of bugbears in the area. Probably just tall tales, but if you see anything suspicious, report it to one of your supervisors." He jerked his hoof in the direction of the small crowd of ponies. "Do NOT try anything stupid. Busy season is coming up, and I need all of you in good working condition."

Yula shuffled uncomfortably on her hooves, but duly translated. The unicorn flipped over to the final page of his notes.

"As some of you may have heard, the Princess was assassinated last night. It's unlikely her murderer would have fled this direction, but you are all to be on high alert. Any information leading to the apprehension of one... Luster Dawn will be rewarded handsomely. In fact, you should report any suspicious unicorn mares to me immediately. Dismissed!"

The manager didn't even wait for Yula to finish talking before he left the platform and headed back towards the few free-standing buildings Halcyon boasted. The crowd of Yaks began to dissipate, and Luster hurriedly left along them, pulling her hood over her head to hide her horn. Far from feeling safe, she felt more exposed than ever. She should just buy any supplies she needed and get moving.

The general store was staffed by a bored-looking pegasus playing solitaire, who barely glanced up when Luster entered. When questioned about the availability of winter clothing, yurts and non-perishable food, she jerked her wing in various directions, not bothering to look up from her game - which suited Luster just fine.

A thick woollen cloak and a month's supply of desiccated oats cost her just under two hundred bits. She wouldn't be at any risk of starvation soon, though scurvy was still a threat. The store, unfortunately, did not sell nutritional supplements. Still, she shouldn't be in Yakyakistan for longer than a week. The cheapest yurt she could find - a tiny, thin thing made of what she hoped as synthetic animal skin, cost her just under 300 bits.

Emerging from the store almost bitless, but feeling much better prepared, she headed straight for the road. Luster felt somewhat guilty that wouldn't be able to repay Yasha or Yula for their kindness, but she had problems aplenty of her own. Getting caught now, so close to the border, would be maddening.

As she approached the town's exit, she noticed it was, unlike last night, blocked by two burly yaks and a shivering mare wrapped in a thin coat. Not good. Evidently somepony was taking the possibility of her passing through this town more seriously than the manager. Clearing her throat, she strutted up to the checkpoint with an aura of complete confidence. The mare looked unimpressed.

"Who are you? I haven't seen you around before." Her eyes narrowed as she took in the thick, concealing cloak Luster wore. "Pull your hood back. I'm under orders to detain any suspicious unicorn mares."

"I'm Golden Sun." Luster pushed her hood back, not wanting to appear suspicious. "I'm travelling to the Griffon Empire for work. I'm on a tight schedule, I really don't have any time for holdups." She levitated a pouch out of her saddlebags and gave it a shake, letting the bits within clink together alluringly. "How about I just cough up for the toll and we make this nice and easy for everypony?"

The mare eyed the pouch greedily, sizing Luster up. It was a tempting offer, but the prospect of catching the Princess' assassin was even more tempting. Luster met enough of the description to make it worth a gamble.

"I don't take bribes. Show me your cutie mark. If it doesn't resemble hers, you can go through."

Luster cursed under her breath. Should she try and fight her way through? No, that would just be announcing her presence to the rest of the camp. She'd never make it through Yakyakistan safely.

"Come on, it's freezing out here. Just give me a break, will you?"

The mare's insistence only grew. "Something to hide? You two, grab her."

The yaks surged forwards with surprising speed and held her in place. Luster struggled aggressively and received a hoof to the side of the head for her efforts. The mare grabbed the hem of her cloak and began to pull it up.

"Wait!" The anger in Luster's voice was enough to make the mare pause. "Just... I don't have one, all right?"

"What?" The mare looked incredulous. "You're a blank flank? Still?"

Luster tore herself from the two yak's grip and backed away. "It's... it's just embarrassing, all right? Can't we go somewhere private?"

The mare rolled her eyes, then spat into the snow. "As you wish, your highness. You two, take her to the main office. Try not to stink the place up while you're in there. I'll be over in a minute, I just need to find two more of you to keep watch." Her expression soured as the yaks stared at her. "What are you waiting for? Get to it!"

The yaks grumbled, but dutifully seized Luster in their grip and began to frog-march her over to the office. Luster tried in vain to argue her way out, but to no avail. She doubted either of them even understood a word she way saying. Though their ears pricked up when she shook the pouch of bits in their direction, their fear of their boss clearly superseded their greed.

In the main lobby of the mining office, Luster was surprised - and somewhat relieved - to see Yula at the main desk, apparently acting as translator between a trio of yaks and the manager. From what Luster could overhear, it seemed to be an argument about pay. As soon as they were finished bellowing at each other, the yak holding Luster in her vice-like grip bellowed at Yula, whose eyes widened at the sight of Luster being dragged in front of her like a prisoner.

"What you doing to pony?" One of the yaks shook Luster in response, muttering an explanation that caused Yula's eyes to widen till they threatened to pop out of her head.

"Luster Dawn? Pony who kill Twilight?" She shook her head in disbelief. "No way. Big mistake. Leave with me, Yula sort it all out."

The yaks flanking Luster exchanged glances, before shrugging and dropping her to the floor. As they ambled off, Yula extended a hoof and pulled Luster to her feet.

"All big mistake." She gave Luster a warm smile. "Don't pony worry. Pony wait with Luster till Ice Blizzard come and sort it all out."

"Th... thanks." Luster wracked her brains, trying to come up with a good lie. She could always immobilize Yula and run for it, but every fibre of her being repelled at the idea of attacking the soft-hearted yak who had shown her nothing but kindness. "Yula, I'm on a really tight schedule. Can't you make an exception, and just let me go?"

Yula's bright smile faded. "Not able. Bad news today. Company losing money. Thinking about firing some yaks. Maybe all yaks. Yasha. Maybe even Yula. Must be on good behaviour." Her smile returned. "All big misunderstanding. You'll see."

"I'm... I'm sorry to hear that. What will he do?"

"Yula... Yula not know." The normally booming yak's voice went quiet. "Yula love him very much. She not like this place very much. Maybe she leave with him. Yula... Yula not know what to do." She let out a deep breath. "What would pony do?"

"I'd... I'd go." Luster took a deep breath. She had no other choice. The mare - Ice Blizzard - would be back any second. It was either risk everything and maybe get caught, or be caught for certain. "Yula, I don't have any time left. Listen to me."

Yula leaned in. Luster swallowed the rising lump in her throat and continued. "It's me. I'm Luster Dawn."

The dri's eyes widened, then she let out an uneasy laugh. "Yak not understand pony joke."

"There is no joke. I'm running away, and I can't get caught. You understand?"

"But..." Yula frowned. "Why... why would pony hurt Princess Twilight?"

"It... it was an accident. I didn't want this. Any of this! But I'm trying to make everything right. Some... somecreature stole a little filly from me. I'm going to the Griffon Empire to get her back. And if I'm found now, she'll be lost forever. I have to get out of this town. You can come with me. Yasha too. You've always wanted to see the world. This is your chance!"

Conflicted emotions ran across Yula's face. Betrayal, curiosity... anger. Finally, a pensive, solemn look. "They take your daughter?"

"My... not... not my..." Luster choked, unable to stop the tears forming. "Yes. They took my little filly. And I'd do anything to get her back. Do you understand that?"

Yula patted Luster on the back - knocking the wind out of her as she did so - and nodded. "Yula understand. She help you. But you make Yula promise first."


"When this all over, pony go back to Equestria and turn herself in. Face justice. Make things right."

Luster had no intention of going back to Equestria and putting her neck on the chopping block, but she didn't have the luxury of integrity right now. "Of course. I was always going to do that."

"You promise?"

"I promise."

Yula nodded, looking happy. "Go to border of town. Yasha and Yula meet you there in an hour. Have to pack food and yurt." Suddenly, she pulled Luster into a crushing embrace. "Yula know Luster good pony. Make things right."

It was under the cover of darkness that the trio escaped Halcyon. By sunset, the disgruntled yak workforce had called the search off and returned to their yurts, followed shortly by most of the pony supervisors. A handful kept up the search, but their numbers were so few as to make it a fruitless endeavour.

For the first thirty minutes, Luster strode alongside the pair in silence as Yula and Yasha muttered amongst themselves. Yasha looked far more relaxed than Yula over the whole affair, and when informed of Luster's crimes, he broke out not into gasps of horror, but a vicious grin.

Silence fell over the group. After a few minutes, elated by the sensation of wandering the snowpeaks like a free bull once more, Yasha broke out into song, a ghostly, ethereal lullaby that somehow filled Luster with a sense of elation. After all the solitary hiking, travelling with others was... nice.

Maybe things were going to be all right, after all.

The crane juddered slightly as it seized the statue in its claw, lifting it high into the air and moving it above a giant metal machine that groaned and screamed with an almost intolerable noise. Within it's stomach laid a thousand cruel rotating blades slicing into the air. The few pebbles that were shaken free from the statue's base were instantaneously smashed to pieces within it.

Captain Moonlight - or rather, Chancellor Moonlight - watched from a balcony above with a stony expression. Her agents had yet to find either Cozy Glow or Luster Dawn, but this was one operation she would be personally overseeing. The crane operator glanced upwards at her, waiting for the order.

"Do it."

The crane released the statue. For a brief moment, as it flew through the air, it was an absurd, almost comical sight. Then it hit the shredder.

The noise instantly went from intolerable to unbearable. Both the machine and the statue shook violently, and for a moment Moonlight was worried it would topple over, causing her to tense her wings in anticipation. Slowly, every single inch of the statue was consumed by the metal stomach, sending a cloud of dust into the surrounding air. Broken chunks of rock were spat out of the side as more and more of the statue was destroyed.

It didn't take long for the rest of the statue to be consumed. Within less than a minute, the final chunks were consumed, causing the onlookers to let out a cheer. The final remains of the statue were flung from the machine. The dust settled.

Moonlight barked an order. Two dragons stepped forwards, each wearing a sash around their necks in the colour of the new Equestrian Guard. They opened their mouths and suddenly the room was consumed by fire. As the flames evaporated, Moonlight's mouth twisted upwards into a smile as she saw the puddle of rapidly cooling magma bubble on the floor.

Five time zones and a thousand miles away, Cozy Glow awoke with a scream.

Author's Note:

A dri is a female yak. Kind of. The whole story read stupidly calling Yula a cow so here we are.

Also DWK isn't dead, go figure.